What is Intersectionality? Black Feminism and Intersectionality
Intersectionality is defined by many sources of oppression such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, and other spectrums of identity that create different modes of discrimination and privileges. The term intersectionality was developed by Kimberle Crenshaw in the 1980s to address the different forms of oppression that women of colour, particularly Black Women, experience due to their marginalized racial and gender identities . Intersectionality proposes that we should think about each identifying characteristic of an individual as intersecting to fully understand an individual’s identity, lived experience, perspective, and relationship to others in society.
There are three aspects of intersectionality that Crenshaw defines in terms of how they shape the lives of Black Women. The three aspects are structural, political, and representational intersectionality.
Structural Intersectionality refers to the systems and structures in society that give privilege to some groups while restricting the rights and privileges of others. These traditional policies and practices fail women of colour because they do not view the different layers of oppression that a Black woman experiences. For example, the wage gap between Black women and all other women has only increased, with Black women making the least amount of income than the rest of the population. Therefore, structural intersectionality highlights the systems and structures in society that disproportionately underrepresents the Black community and shows the effects of inequality in such systems, particularly the Black community representing the lower-income population.
Political intersectionality refers to the structures and systems of laws and policies that govern individuals and groups in societies. It looks at how laws and public policies are shaped and formed by dominant cultural perspectives of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. Thus, there are many inequalities within the criminal justice system. Black women are particularly vulnerable to harassment and police brutality. Black women make up 6.6 percent of the United States population, yet account for 33% of all women killed by police. Another political issue is when feminist issues are represented in the dominant paradigm as White women issues. Black women find themselves as not being represented and they lack acknowledgment of their experience of both racism and sexism. They cannot be marginalized within the population of all women as it is evident that Black women experience far more hardships than the average women.
Representational intersectionality provides us with a way to understand how women of colour are represented, misrepresented, or not represented in the media. According to the African American Policy Forum, representation of Black women in the media is “disproportionately sparse” and when it does happen, it is often a regurgitation of negative stereotypes. On the other hand, within the context of violence against women, there is little representation in the media of the stories of Black women suffering from police brutality or discrimination. The #SayHerName movement is built to inform people of the names of women that were killed by men in uniform, which got no media attention. The list goes on of Black women’s names and faces that no one ever heard or saw before and this shows the lack of media representation of violence against women of colour.
The concept of intersectionality is not an abstract notion, but a description of the way multiple oppressions are experienced. Using an intersectional framework explores several issues within our legal system and society, particularly looking at the experiences of Black women.
How has intersectionality been used and taken up?
Intersectionality was taken up by Black feminists who received backlash for shifting the focus of Feminist Theory . Since then, intersectionality has been used by the Black Lives Matter Movement, Occupy, and Idle No More, and many other movements and groups. Black Lives Matter has utilized intersectionality to spread awareness, make a change, and educate others.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) began as a movement against police brutality and violence against Black lives in the United States of America. However, BLM has transformed into an international fight for racial justice across the globe . Since the rise of BLM it has helped recognize the disproportionate carding that happens in Canada to the refugee crisis in Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. BLM has become an international term that has exploded across the media so that Black voices are heard. By utilizing media, they are spreading their message to end systemic racism against Black people and sharing resources and information to millions of people.
By educating others on Black histories, discrimination, incarceration, and systemic racism, people will begin to understand the inequality that Black people have been undergoing for decades. Through education, BLM will have allies who will use their privileges to challenge racial practices and systemic racism . Through pedagogy, Courtney Cole, who is a white university professor, is educating her students about BLM and using an intersectional framework to prepare them for their workplaces and communities. Using an intersectional framework is important in this pedagogy because BLM understands the other identities that are also included in Black liberation such as queerness and femininity.
Finally, BLM is utilizing intersectionality to create change and end systemic racism against Black lives. The goal of BLM is not just to end the violence against Black people, but to transform the state. Everybody can be an ally by donating to bail funds, signing petitions, and putting pressure on local governments to end systemic racism. BLM supports allies to begin conversations with family, friends, and coworkers to address internalized racism. In response to international BLM protests, Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, the city of Minneapolis promised to disband the police department, and New York is moving more funding from the police department to social services. All these changes come from the outcry for change from BLM and all these improvements occur at different levels. Arresting the police who have killed Black people is an individual level, but defunding the police occurs at a higher level of government. This variety of solutions address the intersectional approach because there is no singular solution to ending systemic racism.
How is it used in popular culture?
The concept of "intersectionality" was first proposed by black women scholars, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Collins, in the late 1980s. The unique "intersectionality" in daily life, as well as the double neglect and abuse that caused black women to be undermined in the past fueled gender and racial equality movements in the United States.
However, being black and female are not the only identities that are discriminated against. There are more identities that exist within an intersectional analysis. With the successive abolition of slavery and apartheid, intersectionality has not only appeared in critical movements but also in popular culture. The use of intersectionality in popular culture is divided into two types.
The first is used in serious themes of movies, TV series and other works, such as "Moonlight". In this movie, the intersectionalities of queerness and Blackness are used to convey to the audience the plight of people suffering from multiple discriminations, and play an educational role in society.
The other is to add to popular culture as a relaxed element. For example, the British sitcom TV series "Vicious" tells a very interesting daily story between two gay elderly people. The intersection of the two elements of age and queerness greatly enhances the beauty of the TV series. Representation in popular culture allows viewers to connect with the characters. In addition, the current society is also very popular, homosexual literature, this kind of literature is often a fantasy work of a certain film and television drama. At present, the most famous gay literature comes from the British TV series "Sherlock“ , for example, the book A Murmuring of Bees. Although there is no information in the TV series about the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and even the identity of the two is heterosexual, many fans will base it on this. This TV series produced many works about the homosexuality between Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and the intersection of Sherlock Holmes’s "spiritual isolation" and "homosexuality" traits will not discriminate against readers. On the contrary, tens of thousands of readers were attracted by this kind of literature.
Moreover, popular music we listen to everyday contains topics of intersectionality, such as the most popular hip-hop music. The earliest hip-hop music came from the underground where Black people told stories about their lives. The world has become more progressive regarding LGBTQ rights which is reflected in today’s popular culture. Rapper Lil B released an album called "I'm Gay (I'm Happy)" and many famous rap artists like Jay- Z and Snoop Dogg are publicly supporting the LGBTQ community.
Intersectional dilemmas and contradictions exist through social media use in facilitating discourse during the Black Lives Matter movement. It is important to keep in mind the discussions about allyship, media representation, and critical vigilance.
Many accounts, including influencers, brands, and organizations, have reposted the movement's images and videos—for example, police brutality towards protesters and rioting and looting. The content is useful in which the message is heard and spread wide and far. However, the type of content reshared may not be associated with dismantling oppression and racism. Allyship is not about resharing experiences and images/videos of trauma, especially to the marginalized communities trying to heal from the distress . The consequences behind sharing these stressful experiences lead to emotional turmoil, which evokes stressful emotions and feelings from communities who have previously experienced these traumas. Instead, allyship is work that requires a lifelong commitment to continuous learning and engagement .
In addition to the aforementioned consequences of the sharing of images and videos of trauma, social media has played a role in its’ shaping of the movement as a whole . While those on social media have sought a supportive role in the undertaking of an intersectional framework, what is not realized by some is the impact that media representation has on movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement. The term “movement frame” (p. 1815) refers to the way by which “activists interpret problems and are motivated to act” (p. 1816). Problems arise, however, when individuals with ulterior agendas utilize this movement frame in ways that do not support the ultimate cause. Because of the wide reach of social media, the general public is able to interact with these frameworks and movements, affecting how that movement is presented and the image of the framework as a whole . Ultimately, larger audiences are able to intersect and project messages that may counter, or “taint” the messages intended by the original creators.
Furthermore, it is difficult to tell whether brands, organizations, and institutions genuinely support change and seek to dismantle oppression. Many brands and organizations took to Instagram and various other social media platforms to participate in #blackouttuesday. The companies reshared BLM resources and content to bring awareness to the movement. The actions ascribed to these behaviours let consumers and followers know that the brand is trying to change. However, a 24-hour commitment to reposting or sharing BLM content without taking steps beyond sharing and liking posts will contribute little to dismantling oppression and systemic racism.
Even though social media facilitates awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement globally, it is crucial to remain critically vigilant and not spread traumatic content. Actions and initiatives must extend beyond merely liking and sharing images through social media. Intersectionality is the fight against racism, heterosexism, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy that exist in many systems that often sideline racialized communities. Therefore, allyship requires lifelong work and dedication to build relationships based on trust, accountability and consistency.
Our Personal Experiences with Intersectionality
Through intersectionality, I am understanding Black Lives Matter as a movement for all Black people. This sentence seems redundant, but this is because I failed to recognize that this entire Black community can also be affected by discrimination due to gender, queerness, socioeconomic status, and many more. By using intersectionality, BLM is making a conscious effort so all Black lives are heard and are fought for. Previously only Black heterosexual, men have been given a space to be heard, but BLM makes sure that it is inclusive of all Black people, but recognizes that intersectionality can influence each person’s lived experiences.
Understanding the intersectional framework has allowed me to be more mindful about political topics and the types of media I choose to consume. I never really thought about the long-term physiological and psychological effects of transgenerational trauma experienced by Black people. Throughout the BLM movement, many police brutality and violent content surfaced on various social media platforms. This type of content generates awareness of the movement, but it is also costly to the communities that have experienced the trauma and continue to experience the trauma vicariously via the internet.
When people are used to their privilege, equality can feel like oppression, but it is not oppression. You are not being oppressed when another group gains rights that you have always had.
I have consumed so much new knowledge from the Black Lives Matter movement this year. Along thinking with an intersectional framework, has allowed me to be more self-aware of my privileges, and to recognize the different forms of oppression that contribute to discrimination in society, politics, and pop culture. I am now more conscious of the area I occupy and acknowledge that a Black woman's experience should not be marginalized with the population of women as they face both racism and sexism, which is the leading cause of police brutality. Also, there needs to be more representation and inclusion to all Black people including LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and more to learn from their lived experience to help fight for equality.
Understanding an intersectional framework has allowed me to become so much more cognizant of the plurality and intersecting nature of our identities. With reference to Black Lives Matter, the intersectional frame allows me an opportunity to view the movement in a way that encompasses the intersecting nature of the oppression and struggle that these individuals have, for so long, faced. I have become so much more aware of the privilege that I possess and the privilege that others who do not identify in the similar ways to me, do not have access to. The intersecting layers of identity and oppression become so much clear when viewing this framework with an intersectional lens. Additionally, in looking at what the lens is not, such as representation, allows for the highlighting of areas surrounding the movement that require improvement. There needs to be deeper change to combat this oppression and racism, as surface level alterations will not be able to reach these intersecting and historical layers of discrimination.
- Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. u. Chi. Legal f., 139.
- Stats Canada (2017). The gender wage gap in Canada: 1998 to 2017. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-004-m/75-004-m2019004-eng.htm
- Census Bureau. (2016). American Community Survey. https://www.census.gov/acs/www/data/data-tables-and-tools/data-profiles/2016/
- TEDtalks, Kimberlé Crenshaw (2016). The urgency of intersectionality | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akOe5-UsQ2o
- Alcoff, L, (1991). The problem of speaking for others. Cultural critique, (20), 5-32.
- Simpson, L. B., Walcott, R., & Coulthard, G. (2018). Idle No More and Black Lives Matter: An Exchange (Panel Discussion). Studies in Social Justice 12(1), 75-89.
- Cole, C. E. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogy in higher education: teaching so that Black Lives Matter. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal.
- Qureshi, M. R. & Williams, J. (2020, June 4). Allyship right now: #BlackLivesMatter [Twitter]. Retrieved from https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/allyship-right-now-black-lives-matter.html
- Ankel, S. (2020). 30 days that shook America: Since the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has already changed the country. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/13-concrete-changes-sparked-by-george-floyd-protests-so-far-2020-6
- Janetti, G. (Writer), Bye, E. (Director), & Reich, G. (Producer). (2013, April 29). Vicious [Television series]. United Kingdom: ITV.
- Vertue, S. (Producer). (2010). Sherlock [Television series]. London: BBC.
- Merrick, A. (2016). A murmuring of bees. Covent Garden, London: Improbable Press Limited.
- Lil B. (2011). I'm Gay (I'm Happy) [Recorded by Amalgam Digital]. America.
- Bandali, A. (2020). Lecture: Intersectionality: Allyship, Questions, and Dilemmas
- Ince, Rojas & Davis (2016) The social media response to Black Lives Matter: how Twitter users interact with Black Lives Matter through hashtag use. Ethnic and Racial Studies 40 (11), 1814-1830. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/10.1080/01419870.2017.1334931
|This resource was created by the UBC Wiki Community.|